​​How To Kill Termites

  • Written By Dan Edwards on November 11, 2019
    Last Updated: November 24, 2020

Termites can cause all sorts of havoc in houses, but they often go unnoticed until real and tangible problems arise. In this article, we hope to shed light on how to recognize the signs of these invaders. We will also advise on the best ways of killing termites and keeping them away for good.

An infestation of termites can lead to extensive structural damage in homes. The measures taken to fix these damages are not only inconvenient but also expensive. In fact, an estimated $2 billion a year is spent in the United States alone to repair and protect homes against termites.

How to Tell If You Have a Termite Problem

Termites are pests that live in colonies. They primarily feed on the cellulose which is found in wood. Therefore, every wooden home or shelter can be a welcoming environment for them to establish a colony in.

They can also appear in any wooden or plant-based object. Whether that is a cabinet, book, table, or even cellulose insulation within walls and ceilings.

There are several warning signs which you can use to recognize the presence of termites in or around your home. An established and settled colony of termites can eat as much as a pound of wood a day. Therefore, if you suspect you have termites, the issue should be dealt with as soon as possible.

Below are a few indications to look for, which might indicate a termite infestation in your home.

Termite Swarms

As spring sets in, young winged termites leave the nest and fly out into the world to start their own colonies. Because so many of them leave their nests at once, they look and act a lot like flying ants.

To differentiate between flying ants and termites, take note of their wings. While both have four wings, flying ants have larger front wings than rear ones. The front and rear wings of termites are all the same size. Moreover, ants have pinched waists, whereas termites have broad waists. The antennae in termites are also straighter than in flying ants, which have bent antennae.

Termites also discard their wings very soon after a swarm. If you witnessed a swarm and then found wings in or near your home, the chances are they were termites. They may possibly settle and build a colony nearby.

Therefore, if you see such swarms of termites near your home, you may want to check your property thoroughly. Below, we examine some of the other signs which indicate the presence of termites.

Termite Cement

When termites start to make their new colony, they begin sealing small holes with mud. Subterranean termites actually make use of their excrement mixed with mud and saliva to make an effective sealing paste.

They diligently fill holes and cracks to keep away excess moisture and to control airflow. Look for any small cracks or flaws around the home. If you find that they seem to be sealed with mud, this is another sign that you could have a termite problem.

Damaged Wood

Unfortunately, it is not always easy to tell when wood has become damaged. Often, we don’t realize until it is too late and structural problems arise in our houses. Homeowners will usually notice weak or misshapen wood, long before investigating further and uncovering an infestation.

However, you could make a habit of regularly knocking on suspicious pieces of wood around the home.  Any sections that sound more hollow than others could be an early indication of a termite infestation.

Checking wooden furniture regularly for termite signs will also help. Especially if you have cupboards and storage places that are not frequently used and could acquire damp.

Termite Droppings

Termites eat simple sugars which come from the cellulose in wood. When they consume the wood, they have to release the waste. This excrement can be a sure sign of the presence of termites.

This is particularly the case if droppings are found near wooden structures or furniture in your home. Most termite waste usually looks like tiny, thin strips and is known to resemble coffee grounds or wooden shavings.

This is also something to look out for near doors, cabinets, and wooden frames.

However, in the case of subterranean termites, their waste is usually a liquid or paste that they often re-use to build tunnels. This means that if you have these termites on your property, there may be no detectable termite droppings to be found.

Termite Eggs

The best way to detect a termite infestation is through the presence of termite adults. However, if termite eggs are found then this is also a strong indication of their presence.

termite queen can live for 25 years and lay up to 9 million eggs. Thus, many colonies can be created by just one queen over her lifetime. If you spot eggs, there is likely to be a queen in the vicinity that needs be expelled.

The eggs are very small but they are still visible to the naked eye. Despite this, they are often hidden inside the nest and you may need the help of a trained professional to discover them.

Difficulty Opening Doors and Cabinets

Termites love digging into cabinets, doors, and windows, attacking them through the corners of the frames. As time passes, the damage causes the frames to change shape, making them jam up or become difficult to close.

Sometimes this can be a seasonal issue. Wood does swell in humid weather. However, if it happens all of a sudden, it could be another sign of termites.

Swollen Floors or Peeling Paint

Since many termites like moist and dark areas, they can live just below the surface of the wood. They do this so they can bring moisture easily into the colony when needed.

This can cause wood and paint to bubble and peel, especially if the termites have eaten through the wood underneath. Of course, peeling paint or bubbling wood can also be a sign of leaking water somewhere in the home. So it is worth ruling this out first, before considering the presence of termites.

Problematic Termite Species

There are 5 main species of termites which cause problems for humans. It is important to know how to recognize them if you believe you may have a termite problem. Let’s take a look at each now.

Dampwood Termites

As the name suggests, dampwood termites usually settle in decaying and damp timber. In the US, this variety is typically found in the Pacific coast states, such as Oregon, Northern California, and Montana. They are generally much larger than subterranean termites, which we will discuss later.

Dampwood termites can be up to an inch in length, which makes swarming groups incredibly intimidating when they first emerge. They have large heads, big mouthpieces, and reddish-brown bodies.

Drywood Termites

This species causes a large proportion of the termite damage to wood in the United States. A single colony of drywood termites can contain several thousand individuals.

Drywood Termites

They can exist in wood that has low moisture, and do not necessarily need damp environments to survive and thrive. They are around half an inch long, with heads that are orange-brown and a cream-colored body.

Conehead Termites

Although this species is thought to have originated in the West Indies, it was discovered in Florida in 2001.

Conehead termites can cause extensive damage to landscapes and structures. It is not only household furniture, cardboard, and paper which these termites consume. They will also readily eat dead wood from dead or live trees, grass, roots, and shrubs.

True to its name, this termite species has a clearly defined, dark brown and cone-shaped head. Conehead termites secrete a chemical as a defense against predators.

Formosan Termites

Formosan termite colonies are made up of winged or wingless reproductive termites, workers, and protective soldiers. The soldiers are more aggressive when defending the nest, releasing a white liquid that is used for defense.

The swarmers are yellowish-brown and about half an inch long, similar to drywood termites. Formosan termites have an oval-shaped head.

Subterranean Termites

Subterranean termites form colonies underground, often in mud in a household yard. They build distinctive mud tubes to move around, which can be one of the early detectable signs of their presence.

As they forage for food, their tunnels can lead into your home. This species of termite is thought to be responsible for around 95% of the termite damage in the US. They are incredibly adept at creating self-sustainable environments for themselves. They do so by controlling surrounding moisture and airflow levels.

Any or all of the above termite species can be found in your home. Drywood termites and subterranean termites are the most common types though. Many other pests and insects, such as mosquitoes, seem to be seasonal. Termites, on the other hand, are present throughout the year and are not restricted by the seasons.

Having said this, termites do not like extreme temperatures. They are most likely to be seen in warm weather, when the young and winged termites first swarm and then shed their wings. This is when new termite colonies and infestations usually establish themselves. The period in which this happens differs with each species, however.

What Are the Best Ways to Kill Termites?

Not everyone likes to have chemicals and sprays used in their home, especially in the presence of children and pets. Some liquid pesticides that are used for killing termites can cause minor health issues and are banned in some areas.

It is worth checking the law regarding this in your local area. Or call in the experts, as they will know what is appropriate for use.

Let’s take a look at some natural and chemical-free ways to kill termites first. After that, I’ll go over how chemicals can assist in extermination.


Despite termites not being particularly seasonal, they do not like extremely low temperatures. Because of this, you can freeze them out. They do not like anything below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.

Similarly, they can also be burned out by extremely hot air being blasted into areas where they are suspected to be dwelling. Just a few blasts should be enough to burn through a colony.


Salt can be an effective method of killing termites. Take some strong salt water solution (equal parts of salt and water) and inject it into affected areas. This method has the potential to dehydrate and kill the pests.

Orange Oil

This is oil that originates from the skin of oranges. Many pests and insects dislike citrus smells, and termites are no different. Orange rind contains a chemical compound called D-limonene, which is effective at killing termites.

This is quite a potent oil and should be used with caution. It is better to apply it directly to places where a termite presence has been detected. Applying the oil liberally and randomly around the home can cause itchy skin or sore eyes.

Cedar Spray

Similar to orange oil, this is another of nature’s natural termite killers. The scent from the cedar effectively suffocates the termites by preventing them from breathing. Used generously in areas where termites are suspected to hide, cedar is an effective and low-cost way to kill large numbers at once.  

Unfortunately, sometimes natural methods such as those listed above, will not be enough, especially for a long-term solution. In this case, it may be time to bring in the professionals and consider using some tried and tested chemical methods.

This will give you peace of mind that your property is termite-free. After all, if termites are not dealt with, your home may literally be eaten away from the inside out.

Chemical Methods of Killing Termites

There are generally two commercial means of killing termites. These are achieved through the use of pesticidal liquids or baits.

Liquid methods, or ‘termiticides’ have been around for several decades. These work by providing a type of barrier over the soil. This prevents termites from tunneling into homes and buildings.

Termiticides also kill any termites already inside a building since they perish by not being able to return to the soil outside. This is crucial to survival, particularly for subterranean termites.

Overall, it is better to use the type of termiticide that kills termites rather than those that act as repellents. These are much more effective as short-term solutions.

There are a few pros and cons you may want to consider regarding the use of termiticide to kill termites.

Pros include the fact that this method will help kill entire colonies due to its efficacy. It is also the method that most professionals use and has long-lasting results. Termiticides are particularly effective against subterranean termites; the most common species in the United States.

The negatives include the fact that you are using pesticides in or near the home, and this can carry some minor health risks. If you go down this route, you may want to consider keeping children and pets away from treated areas for some time. You may also need several gallons of pesticide to cover the area around your home, which can be costly.

Alternatively, there is the bait option. This involves a few different methods which can draw out termites, giving you an opportunity to kill them. One such method is to use termite detection stakes in your garden.

These are laced with toxins, which either kill or repel termites. You can buy several and place them around your home. The stakes alert you to any termite activity, which gives you the opportunity to give that area of the garden or property extra attention. You’ll need to dig out and kill the termite colony which is in the vicinity.

Buying too many of these stakes can be costly. However, if it means you can deal with the problem yourself then it may be a worthy investment to make.

An alternative cost-free baiting method is using a damp cardboard box and leaving it in areas where you suspect termite activity. It is likely that the box will draw them out as they search for extra feeding material.

Once this happens you can discard or destroy the box, with the termites inside. To ensure the termites never return, you can simply burn the box.

How to Stop Termites From Coming Back

There are several things you can do in the home to make sure termites do not return. One of the most important things is to eradicate and prevent any unwanted moisture or damp.

Sunlight is crucial in repelling termites naturally. If you don’t get enough sunlight coming into your home then it’s likely that any resident termites will establish themselves long-term. Try to keep shutters and windows open during the day.

Termites need food and water to survive. So, if you take these away, the pests have less chance of thriving and surviving. Or indeed re-establishing colonies after extermination.

In addition, it is worth checking the bathroom, bathtub, and other water pipes in the house. Make sure that there are no undetected leaks anywhere. Leaky pipes and damp wood attract newly mated termites to seek shelter and build a new nest in your home.

Investing in a dehumidifier for your home may help towards this, too. If you live in a humid climate, a dehumidifier will remove extra moisture with little or no effort on your part.

Wooden furniture has its own character that is not always found in alternative decor. But if you have experienced a termite infestation before, it may be time to consider alternative furniture for your home. Any wooden furniture you decide to keep should be treated and applied with coatings that also act as insect repellents.

Moreover, anything you are storing away for a long time in the attic, basement, or cupboard should be stored in plastic or metal storage boxes, rather than cardboard boxes. This is because the latter is very attractive to termites.

Another way to keep termites away for good is to treat the foundations of your home. Most new homes have some sort of waterproof sheeting around the foundations to prevent water entry and damage. In addition to this, it is also possible to use grades of soil and sand that act as concrete and stop pesky termites from digging through.

Both waterproof sheeting and coarse sand and soil can work together to make sure termites have no way of tunneling back into your home. The downside to this is that digging up your home can be extremely costly and intrusive. Therefore, this has to be weighed up against how much you wish to protect against termites for the long term.

Another thing to consider is the state of your yard. Deadwood and dying trees are the ultimate feeding ground for termites and will draw them near your home. This inevitably increases the chances of them tunneling into your house. Once all feasting options in the yard have been exhausted, of course.

Maintaining your garden and keeping it spick and span is a helpful hobby. Particularly when it comes to termite prevention. Not a gardener? Consider hiring a professional on occasion. The cost of a gardener to clear away potential termite houses is much cheaper than dealing with a full-blown infestation.


As we have seen, drywood and subterranean termites are the most commonly found species in the United States. Termites can live both inside homes and in yards. These nasty pests cause incredible amounts of damage to property year after year. They can also be difficult to detect by the untrained eye.

It is certainly hard to imagine how such small creatures can create such destruction and cause millions of dollars worth of damage to property. However, it is important that we do not underestimate termites.

The measures outlined in this article for preventing and killing termites should be taken seriously. If natural measures don’t work, you might need chemical assistance, either by DIY or recruiting professional pest control experts. Once these pests are expelled, you should continue to prevent them from ever returning.